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Working to cut falls for access staff

With attention being given to safety at height, why is scaffold erection ignored? By Barney Green

In producing system scaffolds, a great opportunity seems to have been missed. Systemised scaffolds have made a significant contribution to many aspects of scaffolding work through speed of erection, ease of design and ease of inspection.

Some would argue that they are safer to use, full stop. But system designers seem to have overlooked the opportunity to build in safe erection to their systems. It is as though the starting point for the development of a system was the finished scaffold.

We have wedge-based systems fitting onto lugs on the standards, we have cup-based systems with locking covers, we also have a growing number of rosette and peg-type systems.

No thought for erectors

Each has its benefits when it comes to load capacities, design guidelines and the like. But who has considered the safety of the erector? Which system is a real ‘system’ involving not just a finished product but the safe erection and dismantling?

We have a relatively new set of Work at Height Regulations, and a relatively new hierarchy matrix for solving work at height problems. But we still lean back – literally – on using harnesses and lanyards for scaffold erection, in spite of it being the fourth level in the new hierarchy.

Where are the ‘collective preventative’ measures built into the system design? Or even the ‘avoiding’ measures where the scaffold is modular and pre-assembled on the ground, removing the need to work at height?

Guard rails

Advanced guard rails are one of the best routes forward, in my opinion. They have been about for a great many years, but their take up is poor. Perhaps they require too much planning, or they hinder productivity?

They offer ‘collective fall prevention’, and as such they are the best practice, top level in the equipment selection procedure for managing work at height.

They are three whole levels higher than the harness and lanyard, and sit alongside edge protection systems and multi-user mobile elevating work platforms.

Why are they not demanded as part of the method of work by the safest leading contractors?

Perhaps they do not integrate sufficiently within the erection process, or perhaps this level of detail is too much to ask of main contractors letting complex access work to pre-selected, competent, supply chain-approved scaffolders.

I do not think that they are a panacea. Nor do I think we should take the harnesses off the scaffolders.

But I do feel that we could encourage a more detailed, hierarchical approach to the process of scaffold erection and use and develop a total systemised approach to the scaffolding process.

Could an advanced guardrail system form part of a system scaffold, in such a way that safe erection and dismantling was integral within both the system components and concept?

Barney Green is business development manager at height safety specialist Combisafe